Ratification: Women's History

Alice Paul sewing state star into women's suffrage flag. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Alice Paul sewed a star on the National Woman's Party suffrage flag each time a state voted to ratify the 19th amendment.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Public domain.

Women fought for the right to vote long before the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. In 1878, early suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton introduced the proposal that would become the 19th Amendment. It would take Congress over forty years to finally pass the proposal. Over the next several decades, women marched, protested, lobbied, and even went to jail in order to win the right to vote.

One of the biggest challenges in securing women’s suffrage was the ratification process. For an amendment to be added to the Constitution, two-thirds of Congress had to approve it. This means the proposal had to be approved by two-thirds of the House of Representatives and by two -thirds of the Senate. The proposal then had to be approved by two-thirds of the states. This complicated process is largely why we only have 27 Constitutional amendments even though over 11,000 have been proposed!

Over 40 years after it was originally introduced, the proposal for women’s suffrage was finally approved by Congress in 1919. It then went to the states for final approval. At least 36 states needed to vote in favor of the 19th Amendment in order to for it to become law. In August of 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment.

Government recognition of a woman’s right to vote was an important milestone for women’s history and for America. But not all women benefited from the passage of the 19th Amendment. Even though they were legally able to vote now, African American women were often barred from the polls. American Indian women were also not considered US citizens until 1924 and could not vote. The fight for women’s suffrage demonstrates the nuances of the political process. It also reveals the complexity and diversity of the American people.

Last updated: August 30, 2018